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Present Levels: The Foundation of the IEP
by Pat Howey, Advocate

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Relationship Between Present Levels & Your Child's Goals and Needs

The concerns I hear from parents are mostly about placement, goals, and least restrictive environment (LRE). Yet, when I review a child's most recent Individualized Education Plan (IEP), there is little helpful information under the Present Levels of Academic Performance and Functional Performance section.

The few lines that are written in the Present Levels are not helpful to the IEP Team. Often, I can find no relationship at all between the "present levels" and the "needs" and the "goals."

Mark Kamleiter, Florida parent attorney (St. Petersburg) says that parents and advocates often focus only on the "last pages" of the IEP. That is what I see, too.

Most of the IEPs I review have, at most, three to four lines of Present Levels. (Rarely, do they have Functional Performance levels). Remember, schools still tell parents, "We do not have to do that because it is not related to academics."

Parents have to learn now to design accurate and up-to-date present levels. Advocates have to learn how to do this to and teach parents how to do this. It is one of the easiest things for parents to do because they know their child best. Until the Present Levels are accurate, parents will never be able to get the program, placement, or education their child needs.

Present Levels are the Most Critical Part of the IEP

The Present Levels are the foundation of the IEP. (The form your school uses may have each of these two levels in two separate sections). The Present Levels in all IEPs must include functional and academic performance. 20 U.S.C. Sect. 1414 (d) (1) (A) (i). Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition p. 99.
The student's Present Levels must always be accurate and up-to-date.

When the IEP fails to include accurate and up-to-date information about the child's present levels, the IEP is defective. It has no foundation. Like Mark says, the parents and their advocates have focused their efforts on the "last pages" of the IEP. That is, they have provided information to the IEP Team about placement, goals, and Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) instead of present levels of performance. They have placed the cart before the horse. Until they have completed accurate and up to date Present Levels, the IEP cannot be accurate.

Let's talk about the procedure that IEP Teams must follow when developing an IEP.

  • First, we fill in the child's name and biographical information.
  • Next, we provide information about how the child currently functions academically and in the real world.

This is where the IEP Team usually fills in the test scores and grades. However, this section is about much more than that.

The Present Levels are the most critical part of the IEP. It is also the section that most parents and advocates prepare for the least. The parents' input is most important during the IEP Team's assessment of the child's present level of performance. Only the parents know how the child functions at home, in the community, when doing homework, at work, and in the real world.

School attorney Joe Hatley says,

The present levels of performance are the foundation for everything else in the IEP. If your starting point is fundamentally flawed, then everything that comes after that is flawed, too.

Updating Present Levels

Each time the IEP Team meets, it must update the child's Present Levels.

The Katonah-Lewisboro (NY) School District failed to do this for one of its students. It simply copied the last year's "Present Levels" into the new IEP, despite information that the student had made progress in all academic areas from the private placement the parents had secured the previous school year.

The Second Circuit decision found that the child's IEP "was likely to cause [the student] to regress or make only trivial advancement."

The school district's fatal flaw cost it dearly. The Court ordered it to pay the student's private placement tuition. It also had to pay the parents attorneys fees and expenses of over $156,976.00. You can read the decision here:


If you want to learn more about how to develop your child's Present Levels click the links below.



Originally published on Pat Howey's Blog, Ask the Special Education Advocate at http://spedconsulting.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-foundation-of-iep.html

About Pat Howey

Pat Howey is an advocate who has helped parents obtain special education services and resolve special education disputes.

As a member of the Wrightslaw Speakers Bureau, Pat provides training for parents, educators, and others who want to ensure that children receive quality special education services.

Read more of Pat's answers to questions submitted by people just like you in Wrightslaw's Ask the Advocate section.

Created: 11/07/12
Revised: 03/27/13

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